Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Forgiveness … takes time

Julie Bogart, a regular reader and commenter on this blog, has a story about forgiveness worth reading at her site. You can interact there or even here. Here’s how it begins:
I remember when my parents got divorced, people used to tell me, “Time will heal your pain.” I hated that rhetoric. Why should my dad and his new wife get away with wrecking our family by virtue of time’s ability to heal, to make us forget, to help us move on? So I vowed that time would not heal, that I would not forget, that, in fact, the pain would last…. [Please click on her name above to read the rest.]

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Ruth Tucker

posted May 2, 2008 at 6:43 am

This is a very interesting and sensitive and difficult matter—that of forgiveness—especially forgiveness vs. justice. Just last night in the Grand Rapids PRESS there was a story of a Michigan woman who had been jailed in 1974 on a heroin charge when she was 19. She escaped and has since raised a family in California. It almost seems wrong not to “forgive and forget,” but that’s not the way the justice system is treating this matter.
Julie writes: “After twenty-eight years, after all this time, while sitting with my dad in the home he and his wife have made together, I finally let it go. I’m going to accept, love and root for the family I have. I started that afternoon.”
That’s a long time to go—especially if an individual is not able to move on with her life. I think of my own situation of being cast out of Calvin Seminary. People have urged me to forgive and move on. I have moved on. The nearly 2 years since I’ve been away from the institution have been the best of my life. But do I forgive and forget? The president fabricated 2 sets of notes (late in the game) to try to justify what the actual documents would not justify. That is a terrible crime—worse, I have argued elsewhere—than the sin of falling into an adulterous sexual relationship (a sin that is typically not premeditated to ruin the reputation (and more) of another individual).
Forgiveness and justice often butt up against each other. I know there are all of you super-spiritual out there who say, “I forgive seventy times seven.” But then where does justice come in? Should the courts, should the church, should individuals simply forgive when there is no admission of wrong and when punishment serves the necessity of maintaining justice?

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posted May 2, 2008 at 6:56 am

I am with Ruth, “Where does justice come in?” I applaud Julie’s courage and powerful story but the fact remains two adults, with no thought to their conseqences, uprooted and destroyed lives…..My fear is that this is so common place that when people say “Move on” it is not because of forgiveness but because the action has become acceptable in society. “He is so much happier now” “The kids need a happier father” “Divorce really doesn’t cause life long issues” and I could go on and on.
Again, where does the justice come in?

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posted May 2, 2008 at 7:04 am

Julie, great post. I also really like your post “panicked” on the 18th.
On forgiveness though – it seems to me that the point is that if we concentrate on justice we will suffer. There is injustice in the world and we will never make it all right. Does letting go mean approval or simply letting go?

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posted May 2, 2008 at 7:34 am

RJS, you nailed it. There’s a difference between my personal need to forgive and my ability to exact justice.
That’s where I got caught and tripped up.
I don’t condone extra-marital affairs (at all). I don’t condone divorce in most cases, either. But life is a lot messier and more complex than I was willing to allow also, and I was in no position to get the justice I craved. What I wanted was a family restored, not some punishment leveled against offenders.
Anyway, I’ll enjoy reading what others say about their journeys into forgiveness. Scot wrote to me that C. S. Lewis used to say that forgiveness is a great idea until you have someone to forgive. That has been true in this instance for me.

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Scott M

posted May 2, 2008 at 7:42 am

Hmmm. I would say forgiveness means giving up our demand or our “right” for restitution from the other. They owe us, but we release the debt. We do not demand satisfaction.
However, doing that does not release us from our obligation as people who follow Jesus to love that person. And love is a complicated thing. At its core it is the will to act for the good of the beloved. But what is their good? I can’t think of any circumstance in which it would be good to act in such a way that allows a person to continue acting in a manner which dehumanizes themselves or others. Love is often not a solo act because our ability to make those judgments is iffy at best. It seems to be as a community that we learn how to love — but only if that is truly what we are seeking to do.
Forgiveness is hard. We are owed, truly owed, when we have been wronged. And it is very hard to let that demand for payment go. Love is also hard. We must exert ourselves to discern what is for the good of the other and then act accordingly. When groups of us manage to live that way, it’s amazing and sticks in the minds and imaginations of all who encounter it. That was true in ancient times when people were shocked that Christians would stay in plagued cities and care for anyone. And it remains true today. And when we fail to live like that, we reinforce every negative image someone might carry with them about us.

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posted May 2, 2008 at 7:46 am

Thanks for writing this, Julie. And thanks for linking to it, Scot. This was something I needed to read today.

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posted May 2, 2008 at 8:28 am

I know it sounds trite, but it’s also a fundamental aspect of Christian practice. We don’t look for justice when others have sinned against us because we weren’t given justice — we were shown mercy.
In the scriptures God says, “It is mine to avenge. I will repay.
But for us, we are told, “[forgive] each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Is it easy? No. Sometimes you can pray, “God help me forgive.” Sometimes all you can pray is, “God help me want to forgive.” Start where you can, and let the Spirit do His work.

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Eileen Warren

posted May 2, 2008 at 9:58 am

Forgiveness seems to me to have different rules when it is a Christian to Christian. There is a process that places the burden of the offender to seek forgiveness…then we are to “Forgive as Christ forgave us”
Forgiveness that is offered unsolicited and for our own spiritual benefit can be a longer and more difficult process. Jullie described that process well.
Perhaps our need for vindication is often the deeper issue..not justice.

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Dave Blakeslee

posted May 2, 2008 at 10:23 am

In response to Julie’s column by way of Ruth’s initial comment, let me offer this quote from Jacques Derrida in regards to justice…
“EAch time you replace one legal system by another one, one law by another one, or you improve the law, that is a kind of deconstruction, a critique and deconstruction. That is the condition of historicity, revolution, morals, ethics and progress. But justice is not the law. Justice is what gives us the impulse, the drive, or the movement to improve the law, that is, deconstruct the law. Without a call for justice, we would not have any interest in deconstructing the law. That is why I said that the condition of possibility of deconstruction is a call for justice.”
then skipping ahead a bit, he says…
“A justice that could appear as such, that could be calculated, a calculation of what is just and what is not just, saying what has to be given in order to be just – that is not justice. That is social security, economics. Justice and gift should go beyond calculation. This does not mean we should not calculate. We have to calculate as rigorously as possible. But there is a point or a limit beyond which calculation must fail, and we must recognize that.”
I think that linking our ability or willingness to forgive to whether or not we think justice understood as “repayment” has been or can be achieved in a given grievance is a serious mistake that holds us back from the truly liberating and powerfully transformative possibilities that unconditional forgiveness allows us to experience.
So I will venture to question Scott’s assertion that we are “owed, truly owed” when we are wronged. I’m not sure what that’s based on, but I do know that holding on to that belief will indeed make it harder to forgive, and ultimately, to love, because then the forgiveness feels forced, contrived, insincere – and risks becoming an act of manipulation. Letting go of my right to restitution, in my experience, precedes my ability or willingness to forgive.

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posted May 2, 2008 at 11:21 am

I think it depends on “for whom” I am seeking justice.
From my own experience, when I seek “justice” for myself, when I try to right a wrong done to me – I usually end up becoming aware that am living out of the presence of God – and that the “justice” I seek is “revenge”.
If I am seeking justice for others – social justice – I feel as though I am living in the presence of God.

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posted May 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Great piece on forgiveness Julie. The grace and sense of wellness that comes from that act on your part will be multiplied in the years to come.
I wrote on this topic some time back when I first started coming to this blog. Those of you who were here then might remember that Christ’s concept of forgiveness was what drew me to Christianity in the first place. I NEEDED to forgive my daughter’s rapist because the hatred and rage I felt was destroying me (and not doing too much for those around me either). I suppose there are worse crimes but what he did was quite terrible. He came close to destroying the soul of a child – a child who was the daughter of his wife’s best friend and the best friend of his daughter. He raped her – body, mind and soul, took advantage of her ignorance to terrify her about the consequences to her of discovery and used our trust and even her suffering to keep us close and manipulate her into complicity. He betrayed us, he betrayed his own family and he betrayed his faith (if he truly had any). At the time this man was one of the few apparent “believers” we knew – a conservative Christian with a law and order mentality. It was one of the reasons we trusted him – foolish as we were. While I separate the beliefs from the man it is very difficult for the rest of my family to do that. In some sense one of the worst things he did was defame his faith by his actions. It means that my husband and children associate Christianity with the very unChristian acts of this ?Christian?. At best they scorn the idea that being Christian has any impact on whether a person lives morally. At worst they see is it as something that causes hurtful and immoral behavior. My daughter is certainly permanently scarred (although I still hold out hope for some sort of wholeness, where the scars will fade or even be redeemed by God). All of those who love her have had to carry a heavy burden of grief and injustice. Does a man like that “deserve” to be forgiven? I think that no, he does not deserve my forgiveness. He has done a terrible thing, he continues to harm us by his lies and denials, he has not asked for our forgiveness or done anything to make amends ? whatever he may have thought he was doing to make amends before he was discovered does not count; you can?t purchase remission with good deeds. And yet I do forgive him and pray (not too often mind you) for his family. It took me two years of constant and tearful wrestling with the Holy Spirit to be granted that state of grace.
Forgiveness is always a gift, an act of grace – not a “right” or privilege and never assumed. To assume that forgiveness can be earned or is required of the one sinned against takes away the power of that gift. A gift that is demanded is not a gift and a gift that comes with conditions (like making amends) is not a gift. Forgiveness must be freely, if not joyfully, given and completely undeserved. LIke all gifts, however, it often does more for the giver than the recipient.
There is so much import in Jesus’ prayer “forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those who sin against us”. Do any of us “deserve” forgiveness? One of the “gifts” I appear to have received from my new faith is the ongoing presence of the Spirit, ever reminding me of my sins, past and present. She does this, in particular, when I am judging someone else. Many of you seem to have lived much more blameless lives than me because, truthfully, it is hard for me to withhold forgiveness, because I am constantly being reminded of times when I did something similar. Someone lies to me or talks behind my back? Oh yeah, I guess I’ve done that a few times too. Someone breaks a promise or commitment to me? Rats, I’ve done that too. Someone steals from me. I’ve never …. well, maybe not “never” if you count…. Sexual sin? OK, some things are just private. Ignored someone who was suffering because I didn’t want to get involved? Walked by the one of the most hopeless and downtrodden of God?s children lying on the sidewalk, averting my eyes as I walked into a liquor store or Starbucks? Lied and committed more sins to cover up something shameful I’ve done? Well, I haven’t murdered anyone and I haven’t raped anyone but over the years I’ve probably broken most of the rest of God’s laws, not to mention the Golden Rule, that I held to as an atheist, too many times for me to count. And I’ve always considered myself mostly a good person! Do I ?deserve? forgiveness? No, I don?t. Am I grateful that I have not had to pay (at least in this lifetime) for all the harm I?ve done? Profoundly.
1. We need to forgive unconditionally so that we as individuals benefit from the power of that undeserved forgiveness. When we put someone beyond the boundary of forgiveness we are also putting ourselves there. There is none of us, except the One, who has not sinned, who has not hurt others either by commission or omission. By forgiving others we forgive ourselves – the greater our forgiveness or others and the more “undeserved” it is, the closer we can draw to God because the shame which keeps us apart from Him is weakened.
2. We need to forgive so we can heal. When we hold onto pain and grief, when we refused to let go of our rage because we feel it is righteous anger, we are primarily hurting ourselves. We are holding a burning coal in our heart waiting for the opportunity to fling it at our enemy. The enemy remains unaffected and we only burn a hole in our heart.
3. We need to forgive to remove a stumbling block for the neighbour who has sinned against us. By forgiving our debtors we put the onus on them to get right with God. As Christ says “When you bless your enemy, you heap coals of fire on his head”. That fire is a cleansing fire. With no reason to resent you for your judgment and punishment the person who wronged is left looking at themselves and their own sin. Not that this happens right away (if ever). But at least you have removed your stumbling block.
4. We need to forgive so we start working at the log in our own eye. When we carry around a sense of victimhood and injustice we are often blind to our own actions. In fact, sometimes we feel entitled to sin, because after all, we are hurting.
5. We need to forgive so that we recognize our common humanity. How often have I heard someone say that God’s wrath will fall upon those who hurt others because that person is hurting a child of God, neglecting to think that the person who has done the wrong is also a child of God, who has no doubt been hurt.
6. We need to forgive so that justice can be done. When we are in pain we are not capable of seeking justice because our pain blinds us to our own sin and magnifies the sins of others. Sins against us personally and against our loved one always seem more horrendous than the sins we have committed against others. When we let go of that hurt we are able to see the person who sinned against us, not as the enemy, but as our neighbour, and the justice we seek must be fair and merciful, because it is also the justice that applies to us.
7. We need to forgive to break the cycle of sin. Wars are fought again and again. Why? Because each party believes they have been wronged and that they are pursuing the justice they deserve. Christ?s call to forgiveness is too radical for most of us. We can?t just forgive! Where is the justice in that? People would just walk all over us! And yet? Is what we are doing now working?

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posted May 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm

I tried to respond on your blog but couldn’t figure out how to do it without a blogger id…which is not my point.
I think your story is beautiful. It brings up so much. My own life, my parents, my children and their damage due to my sin…what I love is the process you went through…and I do believe some of the deep, deep sins that have been committed against may take a lifetime to come to a place of forgiving…for me some wounds were not a one time forgiveness “event” but a practice of inviting Jesus into that pain over and over until somehow the miracle of forgiveness happened…I heard it said recently – it is easy to say “love your enemies” the practice of loving your enemies only can happen when you have a real enemy…
I could go on and on…I really just want to say thank you for your story, it’s beautiful.
One last thing, something I have learned in having to practice the spirituality of forgiving grievous sin (against me) was not dependent upon the other getting justice — reconciliation like you have described in come cases, not possible because it would be damaging for the person to re-enter relationship…okay, now I am getting off track to your post, it’s just when Christians start talking about forgiveness and justice it gets a bit tricky eh? Thanks for your story.

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posted May 2, 2008 at 6:38 pm

As usual, you speak my mind, and very beautifully. If I could, I would turn back the clock so your daughter would never have to suffer, but I am so grateful that you share your wisdom and your example with us. I am also reminded of the Amish who forgave the man who killed their children.
I found your story very moving, as well as your capacity to forgive.

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Raffi Shahinian

posted May 2, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Anyone here read Miroslav Volf’s “Exclusion and Embrace”? I couldn’t recommend it more fervently to anyone interested in this topic, or anyone living it.
Grace and Peace,
Raffi Shahinian
Parables of a Prodigal World

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Howard Walters

posted May 4, 2008 at 7:20 am

I’ve spent a year trying to “work up” feelings of forgiveness for a group of pastors who wronged me out of misguided notions of “defending the faith.” The hurt drove me to depression so badly I required medication to function normally again. I sit here at my computer on a Sunday morning reading this web site, more comfortable worshipping online, or sitting in my backyard, than attending church. Not willing to believe or accept that church is anything more than an institution designed to empower and enrich certain men–who defend a system of belief and doctrine carefully constructed to keep them in authority and keep others under control.
While still in communication with these men, I was confronted with my own “lack of forgiveness” as yet another sin in my life. I was told that if I didn’t demonstrate forgiveness to these men who were judging me, then that also demonstrated my failure before God.
Few of God’s ideas have been more abused than forgiveness itself.

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Mike K

posted May 6, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Miriam, you once again remind me that the price of forgiveness is paid by the forgiver, but the price of justice is paid by the offender. Only one of these, as the offended party in a civilized society, do we have control of.

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posted May 6, 2008 at 11:05 pm

#16 Mike
My own opinion is that Christ paid the price for forgiveness. I don’t believe I paid a price for forgiveness – it was a gift – both the giving and receiving of it. As for justice, I’m actually sort of hoping Christ might have paid for some of that as well – otherwise I’m doomed!

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posted May 8, 2008 at 7:10 am

Just wanted to say thank you to all of you for reading my blog entry and to those of you who linked and/or commented as well. I’ve been writing about midlife all week (including a recent entry about smoking) in case you are interested in continuing the journey.
In any case, I really enjoyed this thread of discussion. So thanks.

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